Jewish American History Month

May 2023

This observance really serves two purposes: First, it encourages Americans to explore and learn more about the Jewish people. Second, it promotes belonging and a shared civic life among Jewish people.

The Jewish people initially came to the United States in 1654 on a small ship with just over 20 Jewish refugees. They docked in what is now New York City, seeking refuge from discrimination in Brazil. They would go on to establish the first Jewish communal presence on American soil, and ultimately play a significant role in developing the principles that are today the foundation of our country.

In May 2004, the Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History organized a particularly successful celebration of Jewish American history. Following that, Florida’s Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter introduced resolutions that urged the president to proclaim a month recognizing Jewish American history and contributions to the country’s culture. The first Jewish American History Month (JAHM) was proclaimed on April 20, 2006, by President George W. Bush. Each U.S. President since has made a similar proclamation.

The month has been recognized in New York City and multiple Jewish museums. Some organizations and institutions like the Library of Congress have specifically acknowledged contributions of Jewish Americans, but done so for shorter periods of time in May (a week instead of month, for instance). Florida celebrates Jewish American Heritage Month in January.

Facts about Jewish American history

  • Approximately 2.4% of U.S. adults are Jewish.
  • The words "…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…" on the Statue of Liberty were written by a Jewish woman, Emma Lazarus.
  • Jewish traditions, practices and foundations are based on the first five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), also called the Torah.
  • Barack Obama held the first White House Seder in 2009.
  • Judith Resnick, who died in the 1986 Challenge shuttle disaster, was the first Jewish astronaut in space.
  • Levi Strauss, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, invented his blue jeans in 1873.
  • Famed baseball player Sandy Koufax refused to play in the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. Translated as “Day of Atonement,” the day includes fasting, prayer and confession as a way to atone and repent for negative behavior.
  • With documented proof that antisemitism is on the rise, 52% of American Jews say they feel less safe than they did seven years ago.
  • The first white Jewish rapper affiliated with the legendary rap collective, the Wu Tang Clan, was Remedy (born Ross Filler) who wrote the song "Never Again" about the Holocaust.
  • To meet the demand from Jewish immigrants in 1911, a kosher kitchen was built at their arrival point at Ellis Island.


Sources: Pew Research and the Jewish Chronicle